The Art of Luv (Part 5): SWIPE RIGHT / ROKÉ CUPID takes on Internet Romance

Photo by Maria Baranova

81 percent of the U.S. population (as of 2017, up from just 24 percent in 2008) uses a social media account of one kind or another.  If one stops to consider that the U.S. population in the year 2017 is estimated to be about 326,475,000 individuals, this would mean about 265 million people in this overdistracted country of ours are using a device to supplement (or supplant) their social behavior and interactions.  

Let us also assume this population is behaving more or less along the suggested median of social activity, which means they are posting content on those medias around three times a week. This would generate 155 unique generations annually per person in the U.S., which means – in terms of sheer material – there are more than 4 billion pieces of written text generated (per single year) and circulating forever in “the social web.”  

At the same time, only 20 percent of individuals in the U.S. attend church.  And only 13 percent or so of the general population will attend (even one) live theater event over the course of their year. So, there’s that.

This brings us to the Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble.  Their new production, The Art of Luv (Part 5): SWIPE RIGHT / ROKÉ CUPID at the Bushwick Starr through June 10th, continues their collective quest to pull content, text, material, and inspiration from source A (social media, cultural detritus), and reapply that content within the context of source B (an environment suggesting cultural ritual or meditation) while engaging in source C (a live theaterical event – a staging, as it were, of a church-like experience).  

In their current such staging, the central subject is that of love, and yearning, that age-old drive to connect with other humans romantically.  And so ROKE has cast their golden net into the Tinder-verse and dredged up some particularly choice examples of what internet romance has to offer.  Early on, after the audience been given a guided meditition of sorts, the three gilded ones – poets, priests? But in actuality, all designers, Tei Blow, Sean McElroy, and Eben Hoffer – are summoned by a duo of helpers (John Gasper and Rigel Harris) to answer a series of OK Cupid profile questions, and their thoughtful and in-unison-yet-often-opposing responses set the tone for the evening somewhere between “Witty” and “Ironic” on the cosmic comic spectrum. A random example of one of these types of questions: “If a clone was made of you, would you sleep with it?”

This exercise is followed by a series of recitations using found language from the internet, coupled with encompassing video projected onto gauzy curtains that surround the space and its players; the crinkled texture of the curtains create an appropriate abstraction between the images and content.  The audience also occasionally finds itself in a reenactment of one of a handful of iconic romantic comedies.

This equation is complicated somewhat – as it must be given the title of the collective – by karaoke.  At least four times throughout the evening, words appear projected on the walls around them, and the performers join their voices in song.  The songs are original, but somehow retain the quality of something someone might sing for karaoke.  Perhaps the singing is the nexus – the place where we all come together to remember culture and mourn it in our own whiskey-fueled way.  

Oh, right – and there are two separate occasions when weird little alcoholic drinks are passed through the audience, as well as the option to order a beer at the bar that will be delivered to you mid-show.  Also, at the beginning, hot towels and the offer of hand massages.  Maybe ‘cause our fingers are so tired from all the social mediatizing? And the microphone stands! Totally worth the price of admission. (I know it doesn’t make sense out-of-context, but just trust me, I’m not going to spoil it for you. Let’s just say the attention to detail on a design level is top-notch and constantly rewarding in suprising ways.)

If it seems like this description threatens to spiral out of control, one might suggest that the sensation is similar to what one experiences at a ROKE performance. There isn’t really a suggested “way of watching,” and so the mind begins to drift as one contemplates the spectacle from within. I became more aware during this production than past ones I’ve seen from ROKE of the limitations to using found text from the internet. Given its overabundance (and inherent mockability, particularly exposed when presented alongside the unwarrented gravity of ritual), and when exposed over the course of a durational piece, the language becomes exceedingly challenging to position in newly interesting ways.  The material giveth and the material taketh away, as it were. Even so, there is an useful quality to this emptied out sensation, amid the LED flashes of light that signify a new turn in the pyramid to recite yet more supposedly romantic demands by the greedy loveless internet people describing their desired other in hopes of finding the perfect swipe. By the time we’re back in another romantic comedy, hung up on a loop the utterances of male leads (Hugh Grant, etc.) in their quest to win a lady, it’s difficult to recall our own individual experiences of such things – they’ve been replaced, however temporarily, by a strange togetherness that can only be achieved in a gathering place such as a theater or church, as we collectively meditate on such matters as our crazy little fixation with “love.”

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